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Hiking North Dakota’s Badlands

You won't have a lot of company in North Dakota's badlands, which is why hiking the Maah Daah Hey Trail is so good.

EXPEDITION PLANNER: Maah Daah Hey Trail, ND

DRIVE TIME: The northernmost trailhead for the Maah Daah Hey is about 3 hours (175 miles) northwest of Bismarck.

THE WAY: From Bismarck, take I-94 west to US 85 north near Belfield and drive for almost 50 miles. The CCC campground and Maah Daah Hey trailhead are signed on the left, immediately before the bridge across the Little Missouri River. The southern terminus is in Sully Creek State Park, just off I-94 near Medora.

TRAILS: If you can’t hike the whole 96 miles, I recommend a 30-mile, point-to-point hike in the northern section. Jump on the Long X Trail at the CCC campground. After a 5-mile tour of the Little Missouri River Valley, the trail connects with the Maah Daah Hey. Head south for 25 miles to Forest Service Road 809 (just off County Road 50). Other access points allow you to carve the trail into any number of segments. The Forest Service plans to establish campsites every 15 miles along the trail.

DAYHIKE: For an 11-mile loop through the river valley, start at the CCC campground and hike the Long X Trail to the Maah Daah Hey. Instead of continuing south, follow that trail north back to the campground.

ELEVATION: Many of the buttes top out at 2,700 feet, while low points along the Little Missouri River are about 600 feet.

CAN’T MISS: Bennett and Cottonwood drainages for hard-core badlands scenery.

CROWD CONTROL: This is a multi-use trail (for hikers, horses, and bikers), but it’s rough country. You may see a few other people, but crowds are a North Dakota Tourism department fantasy.

GUIDES: The best map is the Forest Service’s plastic-coated Little Missouri National Grasslands, Maah Daah Hey Trail ($7, or $6 uncoated; see Contact below).

WALK SOFTLY: The trail is full of switchbacks. Don’t cut them. And be careful not to disturb archaeological relics or fossils.

CONTACT: McKenzie Ranger District, (701) 842-2393 (northern part) or Medora Ranger District, (701) 225-5151 (southern part), Dakota Prairie Grasslands; www.fs.fed.us/r1/dakotaprairie.

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